May 4, 2011 / 8:45 PM / in 7 years

Republicans to push U.S. offshore drilling expansion

 * U.S. House to vote on bills to expand offshore drilling
 * Democrats to counter by trying to end Big Oil tax breaks
 * Senate to have series of hearings, votes on tax breaks
 By Tom Doggett
 WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Republicans in the House of
Representatives will bring two bills up for a vote on Thursday
they say will help cut fuel costs for American drivers.
 Republicans are trying to show voters they are working to
ease the pain of high pump costs, while portraying Democrats as
wanting to keep the United States hooked on foreign oil.
 The bills, which are expected to clear the House but not
the Democratically-controlled Senate, would expand drilling to
offshore Virginia and require the Interior Department to act
within 60 days on permits for companies searching for oil
offshore.
 Republicans argue the legislation would reduce U.S. crude
imports and boost domestic oil production, putting more supply
on the market that would lower gasoline prices.
 Democrats say the legislation would do nothing to ease
gasoline prices in the short term, because it would take up to
a decade to search, drill and develop new offshore oil fields.
 Phil Flynn, energy analyst at PFGBest Research in Chicago,
said the U.S. oil production lost after the government imposed
a drilling moratorium in response to the BP oil spill would
have helped offset some of disruption in Libyan crude exports
that has helped push up prices.
 "If we're going to speed up some of these permit processes
I do think that would have a psychological downward impact on
the oil price," he said.
 But Republicans are not only interested in boosting U.S.
oil production, they also hope to put Democratic lawmakers on
record against efforts to ease America's  addiction to foreign
oil.
 Democrats are planning to offer amendments to the bills to
strip billions of dollars in tax breaks from the big oil
companies, which recently posted a sharp rise in first quarter
profits.
 "Borrowing money to pay ExxonMobil to drill for oil they
have every incentive to drill for already is Exhibit A for
wasteful government spending," said Representative Tim Bishop,
whose bill would end subsidies for the five biggest oil firms.
 Democrats want to color Republicans as being in the back
pocket of oil companies.
 "More drilling doesn't lower gas prices - it only means
more profits for Big Oil, and the American public is clearly
sick of that," said Heather Taylor-Miesle, with the Natural
Resources Defense Council.
 In the U.S. Senate, Democratic leaders were expected to
unveil plans for canceling tax breaks for big oil companies.
 Instead of having a single vote on a bill to repeal the tax
breaks, Senate Democrats will hold several hearings and votes
this month to spotlight the issue.
 "A series of things are going to happen over the next few
weeks. We'll have a variety of bills, all of which have the
common thread that they repeal the subsidies," said one Senate
Democratic aide.
 "The goal is to see if there is any way of doing this that
Republicans actually support repealing the tax subsidies to the
big oil companies," the aide said.
 This will keep the pressure on Republicans as gasoline
prices are expected to climb above $4 a gallon heading into
May's Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the U.S.
summer vacation season.
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Russell
Blinch and Sofina Mirza-Reid)


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